Skip to Content

Propaganda in the Provinces: A Cycling Diary

When I arranged to spend a week of my fortnight holiday in pushing the interests of the S.P.G.B. I expected to have either the redoubtable J. Kay or some other valiant and experienced comrade as a companion for my cycling tour, commencing August 11th; but some unkind strokes of Fate prevented that expectation being realised, and I had to sally forth alone.

I am asked to write an account of my tour, and to do it briefly, so in order to fulfil this condition, I am putting my experiences in diary form.

Saturday. Aug. 11. Had my first day's riding — 53 miles against a stiff wind. Reached Bedford at noon. Was unable to hold meeting here, no pitch being available tried to secure stall in the market for sale of literature but failed, so had to be content with looking up a few old friends  and disposing of a Manifesto or STANDARD where I could.

Sunday. Aug. 12. Reached Northampton at 11 a.m. and proceeded to the market Square. The local branch of the S.D.F. presently put in an appearance and started their meeting, during which I got amongst the audience with the literature, the result being that the people had parted with their spare coppers before Justice came on the scene, The speaker urged his hearers never to support Liberal or Tory candidates, and when question time came I asked him why the S.D.F. branches had frequently supported Liberal candidates and also why they had done it in Northampton. After a brief consultation the chairman dealt with the question, or rather made a long rambling statement in which he admitted that the S.D.F. in Northampton made a grave mistake, but defended the action taken in support of Naoroji in Lambeth and generally defended the go-as-you-please policy which has characterised the actions of his organisation during the last few years. The meeting was then closed (although I had intimated my intention of offering opposition) but fortunately the crowd remained, and I dealt as fully as time allowed with the differences between the S.D.F. and the S.P.G.B. Literature sales: — Manifestoes 13, Standards 25.

Monday. Aug. 13. After a delightful ride to Leicester, and an equally delightful rest when I arrived there, I opened out in the market-place at 7.45 under rather trying circumstances. I had a very vigorous evangelist in close proximity to my meeting, and a band playing sufficiently near to draw the usual market-place crowd. Socialist propaganda is badly needed here, in fact there did not seem to be any one present among my questioners who had got much further than Labourism (dependent or independent according to circumstances). One friend—whom I judged to be an I.L.P. man—seemed very wroth at my attack on the L.R.C. and his idol Ramsay MacDonald, and whilst we were engaged in a little argument as to whether J. R. M. is, or is not a Socialist, an incident occurred in which made myself and every one in the crowd (except my opponent) laugh very heartily. Along comes a young man who has not heard the discussion, but hears me use the sentence, "the only hope of the people lies in a social revolution"; working his way to the front of the meeting, he shouts, "We don't want you Socialists down here, we've got MacDonald!" After this I did not think it necessary to follow the matter further as it seemed that, whatever the local Labour party may claim, the "man in the street" does not look upon Mr. MacDonald as a representative of Socialism.

Several other questions were asked and answered mostly from the reform point of view and a fairly good meeting was brought to a close at 9.30. Literature sales: — Manifestoes 14; Standards 25.

Tuesday. Aug. 14. This was a blank day so far as propaganda was concerned, owing to the fact the my bag, which had been sent on, had not arrived at Loughborough where I had intended holding a meeting. No literature, no meeting.

Wednesday. Aug. 15. This was the first wet day of my tour, but the weather was fair when I reached Derby and hoisted my poster on to the statue railings in the market place. Here I met the Secretary of the Woolwich I.L.P., who was holiday-making like myself and also a prominent member of the local Socialist Party. Whilst in argument with them preparatory to commencing the meeting, the rain began to fall in torrents and continued for about twenty minutes. When it was fine enough to venture forth from shelter I found that someone had commandeered the box which I had at much difficulty secured as my platform, also at the same time, some papers which the box contained. This and the prospect of further rain made me decide to give up the meeting. Sales: — Manifestoes 6; Standards 3.

Thursday. Aug 16. Nottingham. Here the weather looked very threatening but about 7.30 it cleared up and was beautifully fine. I consulted a policeman as to the best place for holding my meeting, the market-place being quite covered with stalls. Robert was very polite and indicated the bottom of Derby Road as the best pitch. but added that I had better be careful as to what I said, as he had seen many a speaker upset the crowd and be glad to escape by hopping on to a tramcar. However, I held a meeting from 7.45 until 10.20. an hour being taken up with answering questions which were very numerous and varied in character, but fortunately were asked at the proper time and in decent order. This was one of the best audiences it has ever been my pleasure to address, and I am hoping to visit Nottingham again shortly (with a companion for preference). Literature sales: — Manifestoes 27; Standards 42.

Friday. Aug. 17th. I had promised to hold another meeting in Nottingham: but it rained hard the whole evening.

Saturday. Aug. 18th. Kettering. Weather improving, and had a delightful ride here from Nottingham. My experience here was not very gratifying, as I made two attempts to get a decent meeting in the market-place, but without success. The first time, the Band came along and effectually silenced me: on the second occasion, a smart glee-party came along and captured my crowd. I had one rather rude young fellow who several times interrupted me and who at length shouted, "You think you're clever, mister, but you only evolved from a monkey!" When I replied by asking him if he could give me any idea as to when the process of evolution from monkeyhood would commence in his case, he sobered down somewhat, and, in a few minutes, disappeared. Literature sales: — Manifestoes 6; Standards 7.

Sunday. Aug. 19th. Rode to Luton with the intention of holding a meeting at night; but literature had not turned up and two bands were busy in the town so the idea had to be given up.

    From which it seems

    The best laid schemes

    Of F. E. D.

    Oft gang agley.

My tour concluded with a delightful ride home via Hatfield, Hertford, Waltham, High Beech and Woodford.

Next year I hope to do something rather more ambitious with the assistance of a good speaker. There is excellent scope for our propaganda in Leicester and Nottingham, and a "Party Outing" to Nottingham by one of the Sunday League trains is worth consideration from a propaganda point of view. Any members anxious to distinguish themselves in this way can at any time rely upon the presence and support of...

F. E. Dawkins